FARGO — Fargo city commissioners voted Thursday, July 1, to suspend the liquor license of Africa International Restaurant and Nightclub for 60 days due to public safety concerns raised by city law enforcement officials.

The unanimous vote at a rare special meeting called to address ongoing safety issues at the Fargo business is thought to be the first liquor license suspension in the city in at least two decades.

The suspension is effective immediately, though the City Commission plans to set a public hearing where the business owners can appeal the decision.

The nightclub at 4554 Seventh Ave. E., which opened in 2019, has been the site of an increasing number of police calls, according to Police Chief David Zibolski, who said he met with an owner in March to discuss issues.

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Zibolski presented a long list of incidents at the bar to the commissioners, including the unsolved killing of 28-year-old security employee Dominique Dewayne McNair in the early morning hours of May 23.

Zibolski documented several other violations in April and May, including overserving patrons, fights in the parking lot, serving of a minor, disorderly conduct, loud music, assaults, and shots being fired outside the club. The establishment also allegedly sold a bottle to a customer even though it does not have an off-sale license.

In one of the stranger incidents, the chief reported that police responded to a call at 11:20 p.m. on May 29 from a party bus driver who said 30 patrons who had been at the bar were highly intoxicated, with some urinating inside the bus.

In another report, a woman fired gunshots outside the bar about 12:30 a.m. in a domestic case that resulted in charges.

The City Commission's swift action Thursday followed Zibolski's presentation on incidents at the business to the Liquor Control Board on Tuesday afternoon.

Liquor board members unanimously passed a motion suggested by the police chief to suspend the license and forwarded the issue to the City Commission.

Although the city plans to hold a public hearing on the suspension, Commissioner John Strand said he wanted to hear from the business at Thursday's meeting.

Lawyer Stephen Baird, who said he was named the new bar manager on Thursday morning by Africa co-owners Corey Schultz and Mballu Brown, then told the commissioners he would fix the problems and bring the nightclub into "full compliance." The owners dismissed the previous management team, said Baird, who explained that he was no longer an attorney for Africa since his new role would present a conflict of interest.

Baird also told city leaders that former bar manager Francis Brown is not technically one of the owners even though he described himself as a co-owner since 2019. Instead, Francis' wife Mballu holds that title, Baird said.

Stephen Baird, an attorney by trade, said on Thursday, July 1, that he would be taking over as general manager of the Africa Restaurant and Nightclub immediately and planned to "change everything."  The bar, however, had his liquor license suspended immediately on Thursday by the City Commission.  Barry Amundson / The Forum
Stephen Baird, an attorney by trade, said on Thursday, July 1, that he would be taking over as general manager of the Africa Restaurant and Nightclub immediately and planned to "change everything." The bar, however, had his liquor license suspended immediately on Thursday by the City Commission. Barry Amundson / The Forum

Commissioner Arlette Preston said she thought the commission should consider permanently revoking the license due to the incidents and said she would "hate to see it open up again."

Commissioner Tony Gehrig said he wouldn't be surprised if there were more issues with the nightclub.

"(The) more we dig, the more we'll find," he said.

In an interview after the meeting, Baird said that "everything" at the business needed to change and that the police chief's concerns about the operation were "understandable."

He also said race was not an issue in the suspension and pointed out that Schultz, who is white, owned 50% of the bar.

Francis Brown, who is Black, told WDAY-TV on Wednesday that he believed race might have played a role in the city's decision to suspend Africa's liquor license.

WDAY News reporter Nick Broadway contributed to this report.